Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Grosscup on Anti-Trust Laws, VII: Workers Should Be Owners

Today we close our short series consisting of the full text of Judge Peter S. Grosscup’s “long lost” talk on anti-trust legislation from October of 1907 — right after financier J. Pierpont Morgan caused the “Panic of 1907” by taking advantage of the financial mismanagement and shenanigans by the management of an important bank.  As Grosscup concluded,

Workers Should, If Possible, Be Part Owners

One thing more in the line of structural principles. The first duty of every enterprise, incorporated or private, is to secure to the capital invested its eventual safe return, while paying on it from time to time, after payment of operating expenses, such fair returns for its use as the nature of the venture suggests. That is what capital always has the right to ask. But this having been accomplished, there are some enterprises now that take labor and management into partnership in the further disposition of the fruits of success. That kind of partnership is not compulsory, and is not usual. I would not make it compulsory, but I would try to infuse into the corporation of the future an incentive and a spirit that would make it more usual — that would give to the workman, the clerk, the employee of every kind an opportunity to individually share in the growth of the enterprise to which he is attached. This is not a mere philanthropic dream. The spirit will come when the employee feels that what he gets he gets as a matter of contract, not as a matter of gift, and is as secure therein as is the corresponding interest of the employer; and when the employer wakes up ‘to the truth that as it is not by bread alone that men live, it is not for bread alone that men put forth their best work. And the incentive may be supplied by the application of those well-known powers of taxation that instead of being wholly directed toward transferring to the government a part of the success of the successful, could be employed to bring about a wider diffusion of the permanent fruits of success among those who by their labor had contributed to the success. This is not socialism. It may have the philanthropic spirit of socialism, but in its end and aim it is the antidote of socialism — in any long look ahead the only antidote on which individualism can securely rely.

Do not misunderstand me — there is no way known, before men or under Heaven, to legislate men into the possession of anything. All we can do is to open the door — to hold out the opportunity. But that done — honestly, effectively done — I rely on the instincts of the American to do the rest.

I stood once on a battleship, marveling at what the lightnings did. They lifted and lowered the anchor; they fan messages from the pilot house to the engine room; they lifted the ammunition from the magazine to the guns; they loaded the guns, leveled them to the mark aimed at, fired them; they lighted the ship when in friendly waters and darkened her when in the waters of the enemy; without a moment’s intermission they swept the seas for a thousand miles around in search of whatever tidings the circle of a thousand miles might have; and through it all they remained as free as the lightnings that play in the summer clouds. The genius of man has not harnessed the lightnings; they work out his task only because the genius of man has given them the material agency, the open door through which to work out their own inherent instincts.

The Corporation Should Be an Institution of the People

What government is to mankind politically organized I have already said the corporation, as an intermediary is to industry organized. It is the pride of free institutions that they have diffused among the people the political power of the mass. But that is not the secret of successful free government. The secret of the success of free government is, that by opening to the people the door to power they have awakened a universal instinct among men, and have created the capacity to successfully exercise that instinct; so much so that it can be safely said that the successful government of the people, by the people, for the people, is not the product so much of the institution itself as of the opportunity that the institution opens up. And what can be done with the political instincts of mankind can be done with any instinct deeply imbedded in human nature.

It is for the reconstructed corporation, then, as an effective, trustworthy medium through which to work out one of the deepest and most insistent of human instincts, that I plead. I hold it up, it is true, as the ultimate fundamental solution of the merely economic problem of competition. But it is not an economic cause solely that I plead. It is a human cause. In the day when the conscience of this country went under the leadership of Lincoln the supreme human inquiry was, shall there be put into course of ultimate extinction the system whereby men were not permitted to eat the bread earned in the sweat of their own brows. It was a mighty moral and political inquiry. In our day that inquiry is settled. There is now no cloud upon the brow, no shackle upon the arm of any American anywhere. Before the law they all stand equal. But the same great movement in the affairs of men that has carried that great question into the western horizon has brought up over the eastern horizon this other great truth, written almost as long ago and by the same great hand, that it is not by bread alone that men live. And the question I put to you now in closing is, will you not, in declaring in favor of amendments of the Sherman Act that will put that act in accord with the economic necessity of the times, declare also in favor of such thoroughgoing reconstruction of the corporation that it — the medium through which almost alone is wielded the world’s industrial energies — will be put in accord with one of the deepest human instincts of all times.

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